Considering I am a human being with functional hearing, it stands to reason that I love Adele. When Spotify (#finally) debuted the second single off her truly bonkers 25 album, When We Were Young, I was obsessed.
But not for the reason I thought.
Well, also for the reason I thought; the song is amazing, incredibly catchy, and makes me feel the feels I don’t wanna feel but Adele doesn’t really give us much of a choice, now does she? Along with adoring the song, I fell in love with the cover art.
I JUST WANNA HUG HER – don’t you? Doesn’t everyone? I mean, isn’t there something so cathartic and genuine about that big, toothless, kid smile? I keep catching myself unconsciously beaming in response. That got me thinking – when did I stop smiling like that?
Now, don’t misunderstand; I have a naturally big smile and certainly haven’t (yet) resorted to exclusively pouting in my online photos. But now, as an adult, I smile for pictures in a way I know will make me look as good as possible. OMG he’s so vain oh OK PLEEEEZ pretend you don’t do the same thing. I will troll your social media and prove you wrong about your own face #servingface.
I can actually recall the specific moment I realized I “ought to” be self-conscious about my smile. The moment I learned to smile “correctly.” It was a preliminary orthodontist meeting, preparing me for the inevitable horror of braces. Since I was young and naive, I had no idea braces would scratch my mouth, then steal and showcase my food ruthlessly for four miserable years.
The only thing I knew about them was my sisters had them and now it was my turn! I also knew I got to pick the colors (!!!) which was the dopest concept ever. I’m sorry, I get to decorate my teeth seasonally and/or depending on my mood? YESYESYESYES…
No. You see, at that appointment, my orthodontist made several comments about how misaligned my teeth were and how much work would have to go into “setting them right” and “making them look right.” Oh, I would’ve thought, if I’d had adult mental faculties, this is to fix me, not decorate me. I need fixing, I guess.
I studied my mouth in the mirror that night, analyzing every out-of-place tooth and wondering what they would look like on the other side of braces (#flawless, ladies tell ‘em). I noted the imperfections, the discolorations, the spaces, and realized that if I wanted to have shiny teeth that sparkle just like the stars in space, I needed those braces.
From that point on, I didn’t kid smile for pictures anymore. I downplayed anything other than what I considered my best smile features (straightness mostly, which has never been my best feature) and I insisted on seeing pictures of me before they went anywhere (via email, probably, at that point. Or the fridge; it was so much easier to be ugly before social media).
So when I saw Adele’s cover art, I was struck by the uninhibited joy written all over her face; across that toothless grin, happiness radiates. While I hope we all show joy on our adult faces, from time to time, it’s rarely that authentic. That unadulterated, unburdened, and… joyful.
As someone who regularly works with kids, I see this look often; but not nearly as often as I see the heavy expressions of innocence and fun gone too early. Kids weighed down by mental illness, trauma, or other significant challenges need major prompting and validation before they return to this level. Before they return to that face. Adults, with our infinite stressors and struggles, need the same.
I believe anyone, at any age, could potentially emanate the same warmth and happiness that baby Adele and many other healthy, happy children do. Self-love doesn’t have to go just because society beats the shit out of us with expectations. Instead, as we’re able, let’s fuel that flame and make our joy more than just a faded photograph of When We Were Young.